A 9/11 first responder, a polyglot pharmacist: the US health workers who died from Covid-19

Lost on the Frontline contributors
Kaiser Health News

America’s healthcare workers are dying. In some states, medical staff account for as many as 20% of known coronavirus cases. From doctors to hospital cleaners and from nursing home aides to paramedics, those most at risk have already helped save thousands of lives.

Not all these medical professionals survive their encounters with patients. Hospitals are overwhelmed, workers lack protective equipment and some staff suffer from underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to this pernicious virus.

Health authorities in the US have no consistent way of tallying the deaths of healthcare workers. As of 14 April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 27 deaths among health workers – but our reporting shows that is likely a vast undercount.

Lost on the frontline is a collaboration between the Guardian and Kaiser Health News that aims to document the lives of healthcare workers in the US who die from Covid-19, and to understand why so many are falling victim to the pandemic.

These are some of the first tragic cases. We are creating a database and will investigate and record new cases as this project unfolds.

Nina Forbes, 56
Memory care nurse worked through the pandemic, despite fears

Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of work: Silverado memory care facility in Alexandria, Virginia
Date of death: 25 April 2020

Nina Forbes refused to let fear stop her from living her life.

She was terrified of flying. But a few years ago, Forbes got on a plane for the first time to watch her younger daughter Jennifer play volleyball.

Covid-19 also scared Forbes, and as a nurse at an assisted living facility, she knew the virus posed a serious risk. Still, she continued showing up to work.

Forbes tested Covid-positive just after Easter. Chills, body aches and a fever kept her from attending family dinner that Sunday. By the following weekend, she struggled to breathe and couldn’t walk on her own. An ambulance took her to the hospital.

Her older daughter, Jessica, said her mother didn’t have the necessary protection at work. Forbes sometimes wore trash bags to protect herself, she said.

In a statement, a representative for the facility said it met CDC guidelines for personal protective equipment. Employees sometimes used trash bags as an added layer of protection, worn over a disposable gown, according to the representative.

Forbes appeared to do what she wanted even in her final moments. Jennifer was able to visit her mother in the hospital, and Forbes died shortly after she left, Jessica said. “It was like she waited for her to leave.”

— Carmen Heredia Rodriguez

Saif Titi, 72
His warmth and generosity brought diverse clients to his pharmacy

Occupation: Pharmacist
Place of work: Noble Pharmacy in Jersey City, New Jersey
Date of death: 7 April 2020

When the pandemic hit, Saif Titi was working six days a week at his Jersey City pharmacy and had no interest in slowing down. As was his way, he wanted to be helpful.

“He didn’t really run it as a business,” says Titi’s son, Justin. “He wasn’t trying to make profit. He was really just trying to help people.”

Titi was born in Jaffa in the last days of British rule in Palestine and grew up a refugee in the Gaza Strip. After studying in Egypt, Austria and Spain, he immigrated to New Jersey in 1972 and bought Noble Pharmacy a decade later.

The pharmacy became a fixture in the community, known as a place immigrants could go for help and advice, often in their native language, as Titi spoke Spanish and German in addition to English and his native Arabic. If they couldn’t afford medication, he would give it to them for free. “All different types of people from different cultures would come and they would instantly fall in love with him,” Justin says.

Active in the local Arab-American community, Titi gave to charity and sent money home regularly. A Facebook tribute included dozens of stories of his generosity and mentorship. “We all lost the sweetest and the most noble man on earth,” wrote one relative.

Titi, a father of three and grandfather of two, developed symptoms of Covid-19 in late March. He died in the hospital on 7 April. His wife, Rachelle, also became infected and has taken some six weeks to recover. In quarantine, the family has been unable to grieve together.

-Noa Yachot

Gerald Welch, 56
Social worker was a ‘big voice’ in his community

Occupation: Social worker and behavioral specialist
Place of work: Opportunity Behavioral Health in Reading, Pennsylvania
Date of death: 15 April 2020

Donna Welch had sworn she would “never, ever, ever get married again”. Then Gerald appeared.

They met on MySpace, and she quickly realized that “our spirits connected”. On their first date, at Donna’s house in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Gerald proposed – and Donna said yes. “It was like he came down on a bolt of lightning from heaven,” she said.

Gerald’s fiery passion and courage to speak out served him well as a boardroom advocate for underperforming students in the school district, and at the St Paul Missionary Baptist Church, where he resurrected a scholarship now named in his honor.

“He had a big voice,” Donna said, “and he was not afraid to use it.” His Families, Organizations and Communities United in Service podcast combined Gerald’s lived experience overcoming drugs and his spirituality to support others struggling with addiction.

So even as the state’s Covid-19 cases mounted, Gerald was a dutiful companion for his clients with severe autism – he took them to the supermarket in Lancaster and the laundromat in Lebanon. “Wherever they needed to go, he went,” Donna said. “He cared so much for them, and they loved him dearly.”

“We all did,” she added.

― Eli Cahan

Jesus Manuel Zambrano, 54
Dominican pediatrician realized his dream to practice medicine in US

Occupation: Pediatrician
Place of work: Private practice in Freeport, New York; attending physician at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital
Date of death: 30 March 2020

Jesus Manuel Zambrano studied medicine in his native Dominican Republic and immigrated to New York in the 1990s.

He hustled, working in fast food and as a school bus driver between studies, said his wife, Sandra. He completed his residency in 2010.

In the meantime, they had two children: Jesus Manuel Jr, 22, and Angelyne Ofelia, 18. Jesus Manuel Jr, who uses a wheelchair, never veered far from his father during family outings to restaurants and parks, and Holy Week vacations.

Zambrano’s bond with his son informed his care for his patients. “There was not a single day we met and talked when we didn’t talk about his son,” said Dr Magda Mendez, a former colleague.

Zambrano spent days in private practice, Sandra said, and in the evenings treated others at the hospital, which saw Covid-19 cases.

In early March, he felt ill. He took the next day off – a rare occurrence, Sandra said. He was taken to the hospital where he worked, where he died after a week and a half of care.

In becoming a physician in the United States, Zambrano had realized his lifelong dream. He wished the same for his family.

“He had a lot of plans for his children, a lot of dreams,” Sandra said.

— Carmen Heredia Rodriguez

Matthew ‘Matty’ Moore, 52
‘Sitting on the sidelines was never in his DNA’

Occupation: Radiologic technologist
Place of work: Northwell Health’s GoHealth Urgent Care in Eltingville, Staten Island, New York
Date of death: 17 April 2020

Matthew Moore “would give the shirt off his back to help others,” said his sister, Erin Esposito.

A former firefighter and Staten Island native, Matthew Moore volunteered as a first responder for weeks after 9/11, “even when everyone else stopped going”, Esposito said.

Moore was known as “a gentle giant” in Prince’s Bay, his brother-in-law Adam Esposito said. He was a devoted churchgoer and a beloved member of “The Beach Boys” firehouse (as Engine 161/81 was nicknamed).

He even came through as Santa Claus, delivering gifts on Christmas morning to the children of two firefighters who died on 9/11.

Moore became an X-ray technologist, cherishing the ability to help those seeking urgent care. When Covid-19 emerged, he continued showing up to work. “Sitting on the sidelines was never in his DNA,” Esposito said.

At the time, the family was reassured that he was receiving the personal protective equipment he needed. Despite his precautions, when Matty contracted Covid-19, it tore through his lungs, which had been damaged at Ground Zero.

As Matty lay dying, Esposito sought to reassure her brother. “You’ve done enough for us,” she told him, over the phone. Moments later , Matty’s heart stopped beating.

― Eli Cahan

David Martin, 52
A family man who loved Disney, he took risks to help others

Occupation: Paramedic
Place of work: AMR Southwest Mississippi, covering Amite and Wilkinson counties
Date of death: 22 April 2020

On 22 March, David Martin changed his Facebook profile picture. Around his smiling face, the frame read, “I can’t stay home … I’m a healthcare worker.”

Outside of work, he was a dedicated family man with two children, known for his love of Disney.

Martin, who covered 1,420 square miles across two rural counties, had cared for people with suspected Covid-19 in the weeks leading up to his death, said Tim Houghton, chief of operations for AMR Southwest Mississippi.

“We do what we do knowing the risks,” Houghton said. But he said Martin’s death was “a hard hit”.

On 23 March, at the end of a shift, Martin told a supervisor he had mild flu symptoms. A month later, he died at a hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

AMR paramedics had N95 masks and protective gear and followed CDC guidelines, Houghton said. “We have not yet had a shortage.”

In Facebook posts honoring Martin, colleagues described his excitement before trips to Disney World. In his memory, his fiancee, Jeanne Boudreaux, shared a photo of the two of them on a hot air balloon ride at Disney Springs.

— Michaela Gibson Morris

Robert Zerman, 49
Quick-witted firefighter ‘always had your back’

Occupation: Volunteer firefighter
Place of work: Pioneer Hose Company No 1 in Robesonia, Pennsylvania
Date of death: 16 April 2020

Anyone who met Robert Zerman would see two things: He was devoted to firefighting and emergency medical services, and he had a quick sense of humor.

“He probably went on tens of thousands of calls,” said Anthony Tucci, CEO of the Western Berks Ambulance Association. Tucci, who knew Zerman for over three decades, added, “he always had your back, always knew his stuff.”

Most recently, Zerman was a volunteer assistant fire chief. He responded to an emergency in March in which the patient had Covid-19 symptoms.

“That was before there was really any guidance to wear PPE,” Tucci said.

Soon Zerman became sick, leading the family to suspect that he had contracted the coronavirus on that call, Tucci said. Zerman tested positive and was hospitalized. He seemed to be improving before taking a bad turn.

Representatives from two dozen first responder agencies lined the streets for Zerman’s funeral procession.

― Maureen O’Hagan

Neftali ‘Neff’ Rios, 37
‘Gentle soul’ had a brilliant mind and big heart

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: St Francis Hospital’s intensive care unit in Memphis, Tennessee
Date of death: 26 April 2020

Hospital colleagues loved working with Neftali “Neff” Rios. He was humble, kind and capable, a “gentle soul” who always strived to learn something new. Not just smart – “I’m talking extremely intelligent,” his brother Josue Rios said. And he loved people.

Neff worked at a small hospital in Clarksdale, Mississippi, then earned his master’s in business administration with an emphasis on health care, and moved to St Francis. He hoped to enter management.

In mid-April, he came down with fever, body aches, a terrible cough and tested positive for the virus. Several family members got sick, too. His parents were both hospitalized.

On 26 April, Neff collapsed at home, unable to catch his breath. His wife, Kristina, called 911, started CPR and waited for the EMTs. When they arrived, he had already died.

The family believes he was exposed at work. A spokesperson for the hospital declined to comment, citing family privacy.

“Neff was never scared” of catching the virus at work, Josue said. “You take an oath to take care of people, no matter what.”

— Maureen O’Hagan

Ali Yasin, 67
A hands-on pharmacist who made the big city feel smaller

Occupation: Pharmacist
Place of work: New York City pharmacy in New York, New York
Date of death: 4 May 2020

Ali Yasin was a small-town druggist in a city filled with impersonal, chain-store pharmacies. He managed to operate a robust business and remain on a first-name basis with his customers. Over the years, he became their medical consultant, insurance whisperer and friend.

Jen Masser said the first time she stumbled into Yasin’s pharmacy, her arms were covered in hives. “See someone right away,” Yasin advised. “This could be a serious disease.” He turned out to be right – she was ultimately diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.

Born in Pakistan, Yasin moved to the US in 1979 and worked in various pharmacies before opening his own in 2001. He ran it with the help of his four sons.

In March, after serving customers in hard-hit Manhattan in his typical hands-on manner, Yasin developed a cough and tested positive for Covid-19. By month’s end, he was in the hospital on a ventilator. He died on 4 May.

The storefront window of the Yasin family pharmacy is pasted with condolence cards. Zair Yasin, one of his sons, said the outpouring has been immense: “I didn’t realize until he was gone how many people he touched.”

– Kathleen Horan

Sheila Faye Christian, 66
Nurse’s death ripples through an extended community

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Care Pavilion nursing and rehabilitation center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Date of death: 19 April 2020

So many people are mourning the death of Sheila Christian, her daughter set up a website to comfort them all.

Christian was a longtime friend of Tina Knowles-Lawson – the mother of Beyoncé – who posted about her death on Instagram.

But Christian was also a superstar at the center where she worked for 26 years and among those who knew her. She was the kind of person who brought lunch to a new co-worker and hosted a baby shower for someone without close family, according to her daughter and a memorial board.

At the outset of the Covid-19 crisis, Christian was not given personal protective equipment, her daughter, Courtney Christian, said. She said her mother only received a mask in late March. A lawyer for the rehab center acknowledged Christian’s death and said that the center had followed federal guidelines, but didn’t respond to specific questions.

Christian was diagnosed on 2 April. She endured more than a week of fever, chills and coughing, but seemed to be on the mend. She had been cleared to return to work when she collapsed at home. An outpouring of grief followed, her daughter said.

“She just helped and cared for so many people,” she said. “People I had never met.”

– JoNel Aleccia

Alfredo Pabatao, 68
He tried to reassure his family until the end

Occupation: Orderly
Place of work: Hackensack Meridian Health Palisades medical center in North Bergen, New Jersey
Date of death: 26 March 2020

After 44 years of marriage, Alfredo Pabatao still bought his wife, Susana, flowers.

“They were that type of couple that you rarely see nowadays,” their youngest daughter, Sheryl Pabatao, 30, said. “They set such a high standard for us, their kids – that may be the reason why I’m still single.” She said her father was a patient man who could fix just about anything.

The Pabataos came from Quezon City, just outside Manila, in the Philippines. Alfredo worked at a car dealership, and Sheryl said she and her siblings grew up comfortably.

But the couple wanted more for their five children, and immigrated to the United States in October 2011. “The first year that we were here, was really, really tough,” Sheryl remembered. Her oldest two siblings, already adults by the time the Pabataos’ immigration application cleared, had to stay behind.

Alfredo found a job as an orderly at a hospital in New Jersey, where he worked for nearly two decades. In mid-March, he told his family he had transported a patient with signs of Covid-19; he fell ill days later. (In a statement, his employer wrote, “We have policies and procedures in place to protect our team members and patients that are all in accordance with CDC guidelines.”)

Sheryl said the family’s last conversation with her father was via FaceTime, with him on his hospital bed. Connected to oxygen, he insisted he wasn’t gravely ill. He made jokes and even demonstrated yoga poses to reassure his wife and children.

– Danielle Renwick

Susana Pabatao, 64
A ‘selfless’ mother who ‘always had the right words’

Occupation: Assistant nurse
Place of work: Bergen New Bridge medical center in Paramus, New Jersey
Date of death: 30 April 2020

Susana Pabatao became a nurse in her late 40s, after her family immigrated to the United States.

It eased some of her longing for her own mother, whom she had left behind in the Philippines, her daughter, Sheryl Pabatao said. “It helped her to know that she was helping other people – something that she couldn’t do for my grandmother,” Sheryl said. Susana treated her elderly patients as if they were her own parents, she added.

Susana was warm, selfless and a constant source of comfort. Sheryl said, “My mom always had the right words.”

Susana’s husband, Alfredo Pabatao, began showing symptoms of Covid-19 in mid-March, and Susana became ill soon after. Sheryl, who described the two as “inseparable”, said: “When my dad got sick, it’s like part of her was not there any more.”

Alfredo was hospitalized, and Susana spent her last days at home resting and speaking with him on FaceTime. Sheryl, who lived with her parents, said she overheard the two console each other one morning. “My mom was telling my dad, ‘We’ve gone through so many things, we’re going to get through this.”

Alfredo died on 26 March. Susana died four days later.

– DR

Roy Chester Coleman, 64
At work, church and home, army veteran gave it his all

Occupation: Emergency medical technician
Place of work: Overton Brooks VA medical center in Shreveport, Louisiana
Date of death: 6 April 2020

Shlonda Clark calls her father her “favorite superhero”.

It was one of Roy Coleman’s many roles. For the past 11 years, the army veteran and emergency medical technician worked as a housekeeper at the VA hospital in his home town. He was a church deacon, Sunday school teacher and usher. He also volunteered with special-needs adults.

Roy had a big family, with three children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“He was funny, he was kind, he was giving,” said Mabel Coleman, his wife of 40 years.

“If he didn’t like you, something was wrong with you,” added Clark.

Coleman fell ill on 23 March. After three trips to the emergency room, he was admitted on 27 March, with a fever and labored breathing.

He tested positive for Covid-19 and died at the hospital where he worked.

His family said he was concerned about the lack of personal protective equipment. The VA medical center said by email that it provides protective gear “in accordance with CDC guidelines”.

– Katja Ridderbusch

Marsha Bantle, 65
As she lay dying, she asked for other patients’ names so she could pray for them

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Signature Healthcare in Newburgh, Indiana
Date of death: 1 May 2020

Marsha Bantle’s family begged her to quit after a resident in the nursing home where she worked was diagnosed with Covid-19.

But she wouldn’t leave. “My patients can’t leave their rooms, they can’t see their families. They really need me right now,’” she told her cousin Carol Isaacs.

Bantle tried to reassure relatives she would limit her exposure, but on 17 April, her temperature spiked. Bantle, who lived alone, holed up at home. She finally called her family when it was clear she needed to be hospitalized.

“That’s Marsha for you,” her cousin John Isaacs said. “She didn’t want us to worry.”

Even while hospitalized, Bantle was selfless, said Shay Gould, an ICU nurse who cared for her. She offered to turn off her medication pump to save the nurse a trip. She asked for other patients’ names so she could pray for them.

After about a week, Bantle had a stroke, probably brought on by the Covid-19 infection. Within days, she died.

Since April, the nursing home has had 52 positive cases and 13 Covid-19 deaths, including Bantle’s. In a statement, Signature Healthcare said, “The loss of any of our residents or staff, for any reason, is devastating.”

– Michelle Crouch

Michael Giuliano, 64
An old-fashioned family doctor who still made house calls

Occupation: Family practice physician
Place of work: Mountainside medical group in Nutley, New Jersey
Date of death: 18 April 2020

For 39 years, Michael Giuliano practiced old-fashioned family medicine.

He made house calls. He visited his patients in the hospital rather than asking another physician to check in on them. He saw generations of the same family.

“Some patients would show up here at the house,’” said Giuliano’s wife, Marylu, a nurse and the office manager of his solo practice. “Patients would call and he’d say: ‘Come on over, I’ll check you out.’”

A father of five and grandfather of four, Giuliano was jovial, with a quirky sense of humor and love of Peanuts characters, especially Charlie Brown. He liked to tell patients, “I’ll fix you up.”

“He treated all of his patients like family,” said Nutley’s mayor, Joseph Scarpelli.

When Covid-19 hit the US, Giuliano ordered N95 masks, his family said, but suppliers were out and sent surgical masks instead. Giuliano wore two at a time.

The week of 16 March, Giuliano saw four patients with respiratory symptoms who later tested positive for Covid-19. About two weeks later, he tested positive.

Giuliano continued to see patients via telemedicine until he was hospitalized. He died 11 days later.

– MC

Rosemary Sell, 80
She jumped at the chance to lend her nursing skills to her beloved New York

Occupation: Pediatric nurse practitioner
Place of work: New York City public schools
Date of death: 17 April 2020

Rosemary Sell was a New Yorker through and through. Born in Washington Heights in northern Manhattan, she went to nursing school in Greenwich Village and raised her five boys on the Lower East Side.

In the 1960s, she traveled to Berlin, where she worked as a nurse for the British army and met her future husband, Peter. A lifelong love of travel was born. Gregarious and high-energy by nature, she loved meeting new people. “Wherever she’d go, she’d make a new friend,” said her son, also named Peter.

In later years, Sell spent much of her time in Florida. But she jumped at opportunities to lend her nursing skills to her home city and see her grandchildren and friends.

In February, she was contacted by a firm that places nurses on temporary assignments. Her children were concerned about the encroaching pandemic, especially given her age. “But they need a nurse,” she responded. She traveled to New York to fill in as a nurse at several schools citywide just as the pandemic took hold. The firm, Comprehensive Resources, did not respond to questions on protections for its contractors.

Sell began developing symptoms in mid-March, just before the citywide school closure went into effect. She returned home to Florida, where she died from pneumonia caused by Covid-19.

Before Rosemary died, she had been hatching her next adventure with a friend: to travel to India. She wanted to see the Taj Mahal.

Noa Yachot

Sheena Miles, 60
A semi-retired nurse, she took on extra shifts as Covid-19 threat grew

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Scott regional hospital in Morton, Mississippi
Date of death: 1 May 2020

Sheena Miles was semi-retired. She usually worked every other weekend, but as Covid-19 emerged in Mississippi, she worked four weekends in a row in March and April.

She told her son, Tom Miles, that it was her duty.

The economy where she lived is dominated by poultry plants, and the county has emerged as a coronavirus hotspot. Sheena was diligent with protective gear, wearing her mask and doubling up on gloves, Tom said. She stayed home when she wasn’t working.

“Losing Sheena has been a tragic loss, as she had been a part of our hospital for 25 years,” said Heather Davis, a hospital administrator.

Sheena became ill on Easter Sunday. By Thursday, Tommy Miles, her husband of 43 years, drove her to the University of Mississippi medical center in Jackson.

Two long weeks passed. The family was allowed to say goodbye in person, and on their way into her room, an ICU nurse told them that years ago, Sheena had cared for his infant daughter. “‘Your mom saved her life,’” the nurse said.

“That was a little comfort in the storm,” Sheena’s son said.

– Michaela Gibson Morris

Steven Perez, 68
An air force doctor, he served in the White House early in his career

Occupation: Internal medicine physician
Place of work: Medical Center of Annandale in Annandale, Virginia
Date of death: 7 May 2020

When George HW Bush announced his 1988 run for the presidency, Steven Perez was one of the doctors who gave him a clean bill of health.

An “air force brat” who was born in the UK, Perez served as a flight surgeon and medical director in the air force medical service corps before practicing as a physician in the White House from 1986 to 1990, according to a statement from his family.

“It was the honor of his life,” his son, Benjamin Perez, said.

Perez went into private practice in San Antonio, Texas, in the early 90s before opening his own clinic in northern Virginia. He also taught at the University of Virginia.

According to his family, he made a promise to God and “never refused medical aid to the poor who came to his office, even accepting yams as payment on occasion”.

Perez’s family describes him as a proud grandfather to his three grandchildren (with two more on the way); he loved the University of Southern California Trojan football, the Dallas Cowboys and the Nationals.

“He could make anyone laugh, knew just what to say, and showed profound love for his friends and family,” his family wrote in an obituary. “Every person he met felt like they were the reason he was there.”

– DR

Linda Bonaventura, 45
Lighthearted nurse ‘lit up the room’

Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of work: Wildwood healthcare center in Indianapolis, Indiana
Date of death: 13 April 2020

Even on bad days, Linda Bonaventura’s lighthearted sense of humor made people feel better, her sister Alisa Bowens said.

Bonaventura dedicated her career to children with special needs and seniors. She did her best to keep her spirits up while working 16-hour days.

“We like to say she was laughter,” Bowens said. “She lit up the room.”

In a statement, Ethan Peak, executive director of Wildwood, called Bonaventura a dedicated nurse who “would do anything for her residents and co-workers”.

As the list of patients and employees with Covid-19 grew longer at Wildwood, Bonaventura refused to live in fear, Bowens said.

Bowens recalled the day her sister confessed she was spraying herself with Lysol to kill the germs on her clothes. She did the same for a co-worker. A Wildwood spokesperson said the nursing home had sufficient personal protective equipment for employees.

The sisters, in one of their last conversations, told each other they would be at peace if death came during the pandemic. A short time later, Bonaventura tested positive. Just a week after coming down with a sore throat and fever, she died.

“She believed in fate,” Bowens said. “We shared that belief. But it was still a shock.”

– Cara Anthony

Marilyn Howard, 53
‘She was a mother to many’

Occupation: School nurse
Place of work: Spring Creek community school in Brooklyn, New York
Date of death: 4 April 2020

Marilyn Howard was known for her generosity and for never missing a party. Born in Guyana, she came to the US as a teenager. She helped raise her five brothers and put her own ambitions on hold for them. “She was a mother to many,” her brother Haslyn said.

In her mid-30s, she turned to her own career goals. She started university and steadily racked up four different nursing degrees. She had recently begun studying to become a nurse practitioner.

Howard, who lived in Queens, New York, was a school nurse in Brooklyn, where she regularly treated children with chronic illnesses associated with poverty. The week before schools closed, a fellow nurse had a fever and a cough.

Days later, Howard developed the same symptoms. After initially improving, she took a sudden turn on 4 April. As her brother drove her to the hospital, her heart stopped. She was declared dead at the hospital.

In tribute, hundreds turned out on Zoom to mark Nine-Night – a days-long wake traditional to the Caribbean – where loved ones shared photos, sang songs and recounted Marilyn’s impact on their lives.

The pandemic has since ripped through Marilyn’s extended family, infecting at least a dozen relatives. (One cousin was hospitalized but has since been released and is recovering.) The family has evolved into a sprawling triage team, monitoring one another’s temperatures, delivering food, charting emergency contacts and nearby hospitals.

Howard’s brothers said they wanted to start a foundation in her name to help aspiring nurses in the US and West Indies. “The best way to honor her spirit and her memory is to bring more nurses into this world,” said her brother Rawle. “We need more Marilyns around.”

Noa Yachot

Jesus Villaluz, 75
He took the time to put patients at ease

Occupation: Patient transport worker
Place of work: Holy Name medical center in Teaneck, New Jersey
Date of death: 3 April 2020

After Jesus Villaluz died from Covid-19 complications, colleagues lined the hallway at Holy Name medical center in Teaneck, New Jersey, to say goodbye. They’d never done that for anyone else.

“Jesus knew many and meant a lot to all of us, so this gesture felt like the right thing to do,” said Nicole Urena, a hospital spokesperson.

The hospital and surrounding Bergen county have been hit hard by the pandemic. By 8 May, Holy Name had treated more than 6,000 Covid patients, 181 of whom died.

Villaluz worked at Holy Name for 27 years. In a Facebook post, the hospital memorialized Villaluz’s generosity: he once won a raffle and shared the winnings with colleagues, an anecdote the New Jersey governor, Phil Murphy, later repeated. Family members declined requests for an interview.

A co-worker, Hossien Dahdouli, said Villaluz’s compassion was exemplary. He never rushed anyone, took the time to chat with patients and was always concerned for their privacy and safety, Dahdouli said.

Years ago, after a stressful day caring for ICU patients, Dahdouli asked Villaluz why he always appeared so happy.

“He said, ‘My worst day at work is better than someone’s best day as a patient.’”

– Anna Almendrala

Sean Boynes, 46
The pharmacist didn’t want to let patients down

Occupation: Pharmacist
Place of work: AbsoluteCare medical center and pharmacy in Greenbelt, Maryland
Date of death: 2 April 2020

When the coronavirus began circulating in the Washington DC region, Sean Boynes went to work.

“Patients need their medicine,” he told his wife, Nicole.

The medical center where he worked bills itself as “a medical home for the sickest of the sick”; many of its patients struggle with chronic illness and poverty. Boynes was the Greenbelt branch’s first pharmacist.

He was an “incredible, loving guy”, said Dr Gregory Foti, chief of innovative operations at AbsoluteCare.

Boynes was a proud Howard University alumnus and had three degrees – a BS in biology, a master’s in exercise physiology and a doctorate in pharmacy – from the institution.

In early March, Boynes and his wife began feeling sick. Boynes didn’t want to stop working but thought “taking a sick day might be OK”, Nicole said. He also took a break from being a jungle gym to his eight- and 11-year-old girls. Nicole called him “Super Dad”.

Nicole got better, but Sean, who had asthma, saw his breathing deteriorate. On 25 March, Nicole dropped him at the hospital doors. The medical staff confirmed that he had Covid-19. The family never saw him again.

Foti said AbsoluteCare follows CDC recommendations, such as providing staff with face masks, and declined to comment on where Boynes was infected. He said “it was literally impossible to tell” where Boynes had contracted the virus.

To honor him, AbsoluteCare is naming the Greenbelt pharmacy after Boynes.

– Sarah Jane Tribble

John Careccia, 74
A spry EMT, he made ‘the ultimate sacrifice’

Occupation: Emergency medical technician and rescue squad chief
Place of work: Woodbridge Township Ambulance and Rescue Squad in Iselin, New Jersey
Date of death: 17 April 2020

“That’s not the way you throw a curveball!” John Careccia famously told his grandson at a family picnic, according to his daughter, Toni Lorenc. Careccia then threw the ball so wide that it broke a window in her shed.

“That’s how you throw the batter off,” he said, brushing off the mishap.

“Typical Pop-Pop,” Lorenc said. “He had so much confidence in himself.”

Careccia, who worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for 30 years, brought this confidence with him into a second career. In 1993, after two medics saved his son’s life, he became a volunteer EMT. An enthusiastic educator, he taught CPR, mentored young EMTs, and gave catechism classes at his church, Lorenc said.

A spry 74, Careccia responded to 911 calls as chief of his rescue squad. On 25 March, he evaluated a patient who had Covid-19, said Ed Barrett, squad president. Careccia died of Covid-19 several weeks later.

At his firehouse memorial service, Careccia was summoned over a loudspeaker for his “last call”.

“Having heard no response from Chief Careccia, we know that John has made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Steve Packer, a former squad president. “His leadership, dedication, compassion and friendship will be greatly missed.”

– Melissa Bailey

Nancy MacDonald, 74
She came back from retirement and contracted Covid-19

Occupation: Receptionist
Place of work: Orchard View Manor, a nursing home and rehabilitation center in East Providence, Rhode Island
Date of death: 25 April 2020

Nancy MacDonald tried retiring, but she couldn’t make it stick.

For 20 years, she was a middle school teaching assistant and cheerleading coach. At home, she loved painting rocks and watching shows like Blue Bloods and American Idol. She was married and had two adult children.

A lifelong Rhode Islander, Nancy was a people person, her daughter, Bethany MacDonald, said. “She always wanted to help others.”

So in 2017, she went back to work, this time at a nursing home.

As Orchard View’s Covid-19 case count grew, MacDonald worried. Still, she kept coming in – washing and reusing her N95 respirator and having her temperature taken daily.

A spokesperson for Orchard View said the facility had “extensive infection control”, satisfying government guidelines. He would not say how often employees received new N95 respirators.

On 13 April, MacDonald began coughing. By 16 April, she was hospitalized and diagnosed with Covid-19. She died 10 days later – almost a week after she had last spoken with her daughter.

“I said, ‘Mama, we love you,’” Bethany said. “The last words she said to me were, ‘I love you, too.’”

– Shefali Luthra

Kevin Graiani, 56
Police officer turned nurse practitioner was pursuing a doctorate

Occupation: Family nurse practitioner
Place of work: Rockland medical group in Garnerville, New York
Date of death: 30 March 2020

Kevin Graiani had always wanted to work in healthcare, according to Dennis Graiani, one of his three sons. But his mother told him he needed a pension, so he became a cop.

Graiani, who grew up in the Bronx, served five years on the New York City housing authority police force, then 15 on a suburban police force in Spring Valley, New York. He was a “brilliant officer”, said Lt Jack Bosworth of Spring Valley.

Known for his dry sense of humor, Graiani often rattled off quotes from movies. He played bagpipes for the Rockland county Police Emerald Society. When he retired from police work, he began nursing school and became a nurse practitioner in 2018.

Graiani, who worked at a private practice, became sick on 10 March and was later diagnosed with Covid-19, Dennis said.

He loved learning and was set to finish classes this summer for his doctorate of nursing practice, said Lynne Weissman, his professor and program director at Dominican College.

He was an “extremely bright student” with a 3.7 GPA, Weissman said.

She has nominated him for a posthumous degree.

– MB

Anjanette Miller, 48
A nurse who was living out her dream of working in the United States

Occupation: Registered nurse
Places of work: Community First medical center and Kindred Lakeshore in Chicago, Illinois and Bridgeway Senior Living in Bensenville, Illinois
Date of death: 14 April 2020

As a child, Anjanette Miller dreamed of becoming a nurse and immigrating to the United States. She studied in her native Philippines and worked briefly in Saudi Arabia before fulfilling her wish in 2001.

Miller settled in Chicago, dividing her time between three care facilities, where she worked as a supervising nurse. Her sister, Venus Donasco-Delfin, said Miller was dedicated to her job and got along well with co-workers who shared her work ethic.

“At work, I think she was strict, but beyond work, she’s a great friend,” Donasco-Delfin said. She said Miller, one of five siblings, was the “pillar of the family” and supported relatives back home.

“I studied psychology for two years, but she kept calling me – and it’s a long-distance call from the US to the Philippines – and said, ‘No Venus, you’re making the wrong decision. You have to pursue nursing. You will make a difference,’” she said. Donasco-Delfin, who now lives in Canada, became a nurse.

Miller started feeling sick in mid-March and was diagnosed with Covid-19 in early April. She self-isolated at home, where she chronicled her illness on YouTube and Facebook, imploring healthcare workers to take Covid-19 seriously. She was hospitalized on 5 April and died nine days later.

A few years before she died, Miller told her family she had hoped to retire early and move back to the Philippines, where she wanted to pursue her other passion, film-making. Last year she traveled back home to shoot scenes for a project. “The movie she was making is about her life story,” Donasco-Delfin said. “But it’s not finished yet.”

Danielle Renwick

Joshua Bush, 30
A nursing student, he and his wife shared a love for travel

Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of Work: Benton House of Aiken in Aiken, South Carolina
Date of Death: 17 April 2020

Joshua Bush never let his wife, LaKita, forget that she was five hours late for their first date.

“He never held back telling the truth,” LaKita said.

They met online in 2011, each attracted to the other’s lust for travel. For Joshua’s 30th birthday, they took a cruise to Bermuda. He yearned to go farther afield to Tokyo to revel over anime.

Joshua began his nursing career after high school, eventually ending up at Benton House of Aiken, an assisted living facility. Joshua and LaKita, who works in human resources for a hospital, both fell ill in late March, but initially thought they were experiencing allergies. Benton House had no confirmed Covid-19 cases at the time, LaKita said. Even still, the staff was taking precautions.

A doctor prescribed Joshua flu medication, but his symptoms – fever and aches but no cough – worsened, and he was admitted to a hospital in Augusta, Georgia, on 4 April.

“That was the last time I saw him alive,” LaKita said.

Over the next few days, both tested positive for the coronavirus. Joshua was sedated in the hospital for two weeks and died on 17 April. LaKita recovered at home.

Joshua was earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University of South Carolina-Aiken. May would have marked the couple’s fifth anniversary.

– Sarah Varney

Tomas Pattugalan, 70
His children wanted him to retire, but he wasn’t ready to slow down

Occupation: Internal medicine physician
Place of work: Private practice in Jamaica, Queens, New York
Date of death: 29 March 2020

Tomas Pattugalan’s kids had been encouraging him to retire. But even after practicing medicine for 45 years, he wasn’t ready to slow down.

“He loved his patients. He loved to work. He loved to help others,” said Giancarlo Pattugalan, his son. “He had an enormous capacity to give of himself.”

A father of three, Pattugalan grew up in the Philippines and emigrated to the US in the 1970s. He was a devout Catholic who attended Mass weekly and a “karaoke master”, Giancarlo said.

In early March, Pattugalan began testing patients for Covid-19. His medical history, including a family history of strokes and high blood pressure, heightened his own risk. So after the tests of two patients returned positive, he got tested himself. On 24 March, he learned he had the coronavirus.

“He made a joke and said Prince Charles had tested [positive] too, and he was sharing royalty,” Giancarlo said. “He was making light of it, not trying to get any of us worried.”

Pattugalan had a cough. Then came wheezing. His oxygen levels dropped. He tried hydroxychloroquine, an experimental treatment touted by Donald Trump that has yielded mixed results. Nothing helped.

On 29 March, at his family’s urging, Pattugalan agreed to seek hospital care. He died that day.

– SL

Maurice Dotson, 51
His Facebook page portended tragedy

Occupation: Certified nursing assistant
Place of work: West Oaks nursing and rehabilitation center in Austin, Texas
Date of death: 17 April 2020

Maurice Dotson’s sister knew something was wrong when her older brother didn’t post his daily Facebook update.

“We knew he was good as long as he posted every morning,” Felicia Dodson-Hill said. Dodson-Hill, who lives in Arkansas, said her brother kept in touch with his family via Facebook. He often posted affirmations, memes and inspiring quotes.

Dotson, 51, a veteran certified nursing assistant, had begun caring for patients with Covid-19. (According to his employer, “safety protocols to protect against Covid-19 at West Oaks have been in place since early March”.)

On 1 April, his family in Arkansas couldn’t reach him. Two days later, he went to the hospital, where he was tested but sent home, he told Dodson-Hill. Her mother reached him a few days later. He barely had the energy to speak, Dodson-Hill said.

Dotson’s cousin, Dawunna Wilson, said that Dotson called an ambulance on 8 April. The next day he was diagnosed with Covid-19. “From there, it was pretty much downhill,” she said.

– Sharon Jayson

Karen Carmello, 57
Her death blindsided her family

Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of work: Maryhaven Center of Hope in Port Jefferson Station, New York
Date of death: 16 April 2020

During the workweek, Karen Carmello lived alone in a condo in order to shorten her commute. But she called home every day to speak with her 26-year-old son. Steven, who lived at home with his parents, would recount everything he did in precise detail – a feature of his autism spectrum disorder – as she listened intently.

“She could do no wrong in his eyes, ever,” her husband, Vincent Carmello, said. “It’s a very special bond, but it’s one that she earned.”

Her work with intellectually disabled patients and others relied on that sensitivity. When Karen became ill, she discovered that a patient in her ward had tested positive for Covid-19. (Her employer did not respond to requests for comment.)

She was hospitalized on 23 March. Eight days later, she texted Vincent to let him know she was going to the ICU. It was the last text she sent.

On 16 April, after she had spent more than two weeks on a ventilator, hospital staff called Vincent and asked whether he would be comfortable signing a do-not-resuscitate order. He hadn’t been able to see his wife, so he didn’t completely grasp the gravity of her condition.

He assumed the call was simply a formality. “I authorized it,” he said. “And I got a call within two hours that she passed. I was stunned.”

Sharing the news of her death with Steven was shattering. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Vincent said.

– Shoshana Dubnow

Barbara Finch, 63
A beloved small-town nurse and ardent baseball fan

Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of work: Southern Virginia Regional medical center in Emporia, Virginia
Date of death: 29 March 2020

When Barbara Finch got excited, she’d scrunch her hands into fists and wave them around like a kid at Christmas. She did it when the Atlanta Braves scored, or while watching her grandkids play baseball.

Finch, who had four children, spent her 37-year nursing career in her hospital’s emergency department.

Leigh Ann Lewis, her daughter, knew her mother was well-liked. When Lewis worked as an EMT, patients she transported away from the hospital would rave that Finch had been sweet and compassionate.

Finch fell ill on 17 March and died in an ICU 12 days later. As a hearse carried her casket to the graveyard, Lewis said, people in their tight-knit community filed out at driveways, churches and stores, holding signs that read: “We love you”, “Praying for you”, “Hugs”. Hospital employees released balloons to the sky.

“It seemed like, in our area, she knew everybody – either she worked with them, or they were a patient of hers at some point,” Lewis said. “It was a very, very large outpour of love and comfort and solidarity.”

– MB

Darrin Santos, 50
‘He was my backbone’

Occupation: Transportation supervisor
Place of work: New York-Presbyterian Westchester Behavioral health center in White Plains, New York
Date of death: 4 April 2020

Melissa Castro Santos had just started a new treatment for multiple myeloma when her husband, Darrin, got sick.

For nearly two weeks, he isolated in their bedroom, while she recuperated from chemotherapy on the couch downstairs. After he began gasping for air, he went to the hospital. He died from Covid-19 several days later.

“It’s just unbelievable,” Castro Santos said.

As a transportation supervisor, Santos transported healthcare workers and equipment between hospitals in the New York metropolitan area. He loved his job, Castro Santos said, and was known to drive doctors wherever and whenever they were needed, through heavy traffic and snowstorms.

Castro Santos, who has been battling cancer since 2012, said her husband doted on their three teenage children, all avid athletes. He arranged his work schedule in order to attend as many of their games as possible. When he couldn’t make it, she would call him on FaceTime so he could catch glimpses of the action.

Castro Santos and her children buried Santos five days after he died, unable to hold a funeral. Their friends lined the streets in their cars in a show of support as the family drove to and from the cemetery.

Now Castro Santos is confronting cancer without her husband. “He was my backbone. He was the one who took me to chemotherapy and appointments.”

– Anna Jean Kaiser

Don Ryan Batayola, 40
Family vacations and reggae gave rhythm to his life

Occupation: Occupational therapist
Place of work: South Mountain healthcare and rehabilitation center in Vauxhall, New Jersey
Date of death: 4 April 2020

Don and Nina Batayola had planned to leave for Europe on 4 April for a 10-day vacation. The couple loved to travel on their own or with their children, Zoie, 10, and Zeth, 8.

Disney World. Road trips to Canada. Every year they spent a week on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Don’s love of reggae music prompted a 2016 trip to Jamaica to visit Bob Marley’s birthplace.

The Batayolas, both occupational therapists, moved to New Jersey from the Philippines 13 years ago.

“He loved to help,” Nina said. “He had such the ability to make everybody smile or laugh.”

Don worked with at least one patient and a handful of colleagues who subsequently tested positive for Covid-19, and in late March, he developed symptoms. On 31 March, Nina came home from work to find her husband struggling to breathe. She dialed 911.

Nina developed symptoms soon after her husband was hospitalized. Self-isolating at home, Nina spoke with Don every day. She thought he seemed to be improving but, on 4 April – the day they had once planned to depart for Europe – his heart suddenly stopped.

– Michelle Andrews

Brittany Bruner-Ringo, 32
‘It could be the saddest day, and she could make you laugh’

Occupation: Licensed vocational nurse
Place of work: Silverado Beverly Place in Los Angeles, California
Date of death: 20 April 2020

When it was Brittany Bruner-Ringo’s turn to choose the family vacation, it was always New Orleans, a city so full of life.

That is how family members described the young nurse who left the Oklahoma plains for the excitement of southern California.

“She always made the best of things,” her mother, Kim Bruner, said. “It could be the saddest day, and she could make you laugh.”

Bruner-Ringo worked at a dementia care center. On 19 March, she admitted a patient flown in from New York. She suspected he might have Covid-19, and she was nervous. She hadn’t been allowed to wear a mask or gloves, for fear of frightening the patients, she told her mom by phone that night. (A spokesperson from her employer said, “We have no issues in our environment using appropriate masking and gloves and have followed CDC guidelines throughout this pandemic. We have always had adequate PPE to protect our residents and associates.”)

The following day, Bruner-Ringo’s patient grew worse, and the nurse checked into a hotel to isolate from her roommate. She later tested positive for Covid-19, but when she developed symptoms she remained optimistic. “She would say: ‘I’m fine. I’m going to beat this. Don’t worry about me,’” Bruner said.

After getting off the phone with her daughter, Bruner, a veteran nurse herself, called the hotel front desk to ask for help getting an ambulance. Bruner-Ringo, who insisted she was fine, was struggling to breathe.

– Samantha Young, California Healthline

Lisa Ewald, 53
An animal lover who loved comic book conventions, she died alone at home

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Henry Ford hospital in Detroit, Michigan
Date of death: 1 April 2020

Lisa Ewald was a nurse to many living things, human and otherwise.

When her neighbor Alexis Fernandez’s border collie had a stomach blockage, Ewald hooked the dog up to an IV four times a day. “She was this dedicated nurse who nursed my dog back to health,” said Fernandez.

Ewald also loved gardening, aerospace and comic book conventions.

Ewald told Fernandez that a patient she had treated later tested positive for Covid-19, and that she was not wearing a mask at the time. Two days after seeing the patient, she got sick. After delays in accessing a test, she learned on 30 March that she was infected with the coronavirus.

A hospital spokesperson acknowledged that staff who treat coronavirus patients have a higher risk of exposure, but said there was “no way to confirm” how a staff person contracted the virus.

On 31 March, Ewald didn’t answer when Fernandez texted her. The next day, Fernandez and a hospital nurse went to her home to check on her and found her unresponsive on the couch.

“I said: ‘Aren’t you going to go take her pulse or anything?’” Fernandez said. “The nurse just said: ‘She’s gone.’”

– MB

Scott Geiger, 47
An ardent EMT who seemed to have nine lives

Occupation: Emergency medical technician
Place of work: Atlantic health system in Mountainside and Warren, New Jersey
Date of death: 13 April 2020

Scott Geiger wasn’t always enthusiastic about school, but at 16 he brought home a tome the size of two phone books. It was a manual for emergency medical technicians, and he devoured it, said his younger brother, Ben.

Scott was certified as an EMT at 17. He never married or had kids, but did not seem to miss those things.

“He was so focused on being an EMT and helping people in their most vulnerable and desperate moments,” Ben said. “That’s really what made him feel good.”

Geiger loved playing pool each week with friends. He was a loyal New York Jets football fan, content to joke about their follies and watch them lose. He was quiet. And he seemed to have nine lives, his brother said, surviving hospitalizations for epilepsy as a child and blood cancer as an adult.

When the coronavirus began to tear a path through northern New Jersey, he faced his work with resolve. He downplayed his symptoms when he first fell ill, in late March, but wound up spending 17 days on a ventilator before he died. The family has had to mourn separately, with the brothers’ father, who lived with Scott, in quarantine, and their mother confined to her room in a nursing home that has Covid-19 cases.

– Christina Jewett

Theresa Lococo, 68
Caring nurse ‘always put others first’

Occupation: Pediatric nurse
Place of work: Kings county hospital in Brooklyn, New York
Date of death: 27 March 2020

Theresa Lococo spent most of her life at the hospital, working as a pediatric nurse for almost 48 years.

“There wasn’t a day that goes by she wouldn’t come home and tell me about her patients,” said her daughter, Lisa Lococo. “She had to be forced to take her vacation days.”

New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, publicly saluted her lifelong service to New Yorkers, saying: “She gave her life helping others.”

Theresa had dogs –– “sometimes too many”, Lisa said –– and lived with her son, Anthony, in the home she owned for decades. She loved cooking and watching cooking shows, reading and following soap operas.

Theresa wasn’t tested for Covid-19. But Kings county hospital, in Brooklyn, was hit hard by the coronavirus.

Days before dying, she described nausea. Friends recalled a cough. Her supervisor encouraged her to stay home from work, her daughter said.

Lisa called her mother on 27 March, just as Anthony was dialing 911 for help.

“She always put others first,” Lisa said. “She always put herself last.”

– SL

Felicisimo ‘Tom’ Luna, 62
Vivacious New Jersey nurse was planning his family’s next vacation

Occupation: Emergency room nurse
Place of work: Trinitas Regional medical center in Elizabeth, New Jersey
Date of death: 9 April 2020

Tom Luna was a joker, a lively and outgoing man who thrived on the fast-paced and varied action of the emergency room. He also adored his three daughters, something clear to all who knew him.

“Tom was a fantastic emergency nurse. He was well-liked and loved by his peers,” a spokesperson for the Trinitas emergency department said in a statement. “His greatest love was for his wife and daughters, who he was very proud of.”

His oldest daughter, Gabrielle, 25, followed his path to become an ER nurse. When Tom fell ill with the coronavirus, he was admitted at the hospital where she works. At the end of her 12-hour night shifts, she made sure he had breakfast and helped him change his clothes. She propped a family photo next to his bed.

Tom’s wife, Kit, also a nurse, said that when some of his symptoms appeared to let up, they talked about him recovering at home. He was a planner, she said, and was already talking about their next family vacation, maybe to Spain.

– CJ

Michael Marceaux, 49
Air force veteran who went ‘above and beyond for patients’

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Christus Highland medical center and Brentwood hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana
Date of death: 16 April 2020

After Michael Marceaux retired from the air force, he went back to school. In 2018 he launched a new career as an emergency room nurse.

“Everyone who worked with him said he was so happy,” said Drake Marceaux, one of his four sons. “He was willing to go above and beyond for patients.”

As coronavirus spread throughout Louisiana, Michael developed a cough and fever. Soon after he tested positive for Covid-19.

“He didn’t seem too worried,” Drake said. “He just wanted to make sure not to give it to other people.”

A spokesperson for Christus Health said Marceaux would be missed for his “positive attitude, even after a hard shift. His laughter brought joy to others.” The spokesperson declined to answer questions about workplace safety conditions.

Drake said he wanted his father to be remembered for how much he was loved.

His funeral was live-streamed on Facebook. “At one point, there were 2,000 viewers watching his service,” Drake said. “As much as he didn’t want attention, it gravitated toward him.”

– Victoria Knight

Francis ‘Frankie’ Molinari, 70
Ahero among heroes’, he cared for generations of patients

Occupation: Internal medicine physician
Places of work: Private practice, with admitting privileges at Clara Maass medical center in Belleville, New Jersey
Date of death: 9 April 2020

In late March, Dr Francis “Frankie” Molinari told his sister Lisa he was “down for the count”, with chills, fever and trouble breathing.

“Frankie, you know what you have,” she recalled telling him.

Two days later, he collapsed at home and was rushed to Clara Maass medical center. Colleagues stayed by his side as he succumbed to Covid-19.

“We take solace in the fact that he was cared for by colleagues and friends who deeply loved and respected him,” his sister Janice wrote in a blog. “He died a hero among heroes.”

Frankie, a New Jersey native who was married with an adult daughter, was the oldest of four siblings. His sisters described him as an optimist who loved music, fishing and telling tall tales: he went to medical school in Bologna, Italy, and he liked to say he had played pinochle with the pope.

“A friend had once described us as four different legs of the same table,” Janice wrote. “Now I’m stuck on the fact that we are only a three-legged table. Less beautiful, less sturdy. Broken.”

He practiced medicine for over four decades, caring for generations of patients in the same family. His family suspects he contracted the coronavirus at his private practice.

– Laura Ungar

Celia Lardizabal Marcos, 61
Deeply generous, she never forgot her hometown

Occupation: Telemetry charge nurse
Place of Work: CHA Hollywood Presbyterian medical center in Los Angeles, California
Date of Death: 17 April 2020

Whenever she traveled to her hometown of Tagudin in the Philippines, Celia Lardizabal Marcos showered family with gifts and delighted in planning weekend outings for everyone, said her eldest son, Donald.

And when she returned home to California, she brought presents for her sons. “She always thought of how her family could be happy,” he said.

Trained as a nurse in her home country, Marcos emigrated to the United States in 2001 and settled in Los Angeles. Three years later, she became a telemetry charge nurse, a specialist who tracks patients’ vital signs using hi-tech equipment.

On 3 April, she was one of three nurses who responded after a suspected coronavirus patient went into cardiac arrest. Wearing a surgical mask, she intubated the patient. Three days later, she had a headache, body aches and difficulty breathing.

Her symptoms worsened, and she was admitted on 15 April to the hospital where she had worked for 16 years. Two days later, she went into cardiac arrest and died.

Her sons say they plan to honor her wishes to be cremated and buried in Tagudin, alongside her parents.

–– Christina M Oriel, Asian Journal

Celia Yap-Banago, 69
5-ft-tall ‘fireball’ was a prankster to her sons

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Research medical center in Kansas City, Missouri
Death of death: 21 April 2020

Celia Yap-Banago was a 5-ft-tall “fireball”, said one co-worker. She had moved to the US from the Philippines in 1970 and worked for nearly 40 years for the HCA Midwest Health system. Her family said she was planning for retirement.

Her son Josh said she showed her love through practical jokes. “You knew she loved you if she was yelling at you or if she was pranking you,” he said.

“She was very outspoken,” said Charlene Carter, a fellow nurse. “But I later learned that’s a really good quality to have, as a nurse, so you can advocate for your patients and advocate for yourself.”

In March, Yap-Banago treated a patient who later tested positive for Covid-19. Carter said Yap-Banago was not given personal protective equipment because she was not working in an area designed for coronavirus patients. She spent her final days in isolation to protect others.

A spokesperson for HCA Midwest Health said that medical staff received adequate personal protective equipment in line with CDC guidelines.

Josh said she spoke with reverence of her patients and their families. “She was always focused on the family as a whole, and that the family was taken care of, not just the patient in the bed,” he said.

– Alex Smith, KCUR

Israel Tolentino Jr, 33
He was an unflappable first responder with an ever-ready smile

Occupation: Emergency medical technician and firefighter
Places of work: Saint Clare’s Health and the Passaic fire department, Passaic, New Jersey
Date of death: 31 March 2020

When Israel Tolentino Jr arrived for his EMT shift one morning in March, he seemed fine. Then he got a headache, and then a fever. He was sent home, said Vito Cicchetti, a director at Saint Clare’s Health.

Izzy, as he was called, was an EMT who fulfilled his dream to become a firefighter. In 2018, the former marine took a job with the Passaic fire department but continued to take shifts at Saint Clare’s.

He was husband to Maria Vazquez, whom he’d met at church, according to nj.com. They had two young children.

Tolentino and his partner worked brutal, 12-hour shifts during the pandemic. They were dispatched to one emergency after another, each typically lasting under an hour but requiring nearly as long to decontaminate their gear and truck.

Izzy died in hospital care. The coronavirus tore through his EMT team. Most eventually recovered. But his friend and co-worker Kevin Leiva also died.

Cicchetti said he missed Izzy’s unflappable, cheerful presence. “No matter how mad you were, he’d come up with a smile and you’d be chuckling to yourself,” he said.

Cicchetti hasn’t replaced either man. “I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet,” he said.

– MA

Rose Taldon, 63
A former bus driver, she became a nurse at age 38

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: New England Baptist hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
Date of death: 12 April 2020

Rose Taldon was just 5ft tall. But when she bellowed their names out the window, her kids ran right home.

“She didn’t take any crap,” said her daughter, Teadris Pope.

Taldon and her husband raised three children on the same street where she grew up, in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. Strong-willed and commanding respect, she earned a nursing degree while working in public transit for 23 years. Though she could be stern, she was quick to play-fight and tickle her eight grandkids, Pope said.

Taldon was generous: even as she lay in a hospital in April, exhausted from the coronavirus, she arranged to pay bills for an out-of-work friend, her daughter said.

It’s unclear whether Taldon caught the virus at her hospital, which was designated for non-Covid patients. Hospital officials said three patients and 22 staff had tested positive.

At 2am on Easter morning, a doctor offered to go into Taldon’s hospital room and connect Pope to her mother on a video call, since she couldn’t visit in person.

“I just talked until I had no words,” Pope said. “I was just telling her, ‘We’re so proud of you. You worked so hard raising us … You’ve gone through a hell of a fight.’”

An hour later, her mother was gone.

– MB

Kevin Leiva, 24
He was the second of his EMT crew to die of Covid-19

Occupation: Emergency medical technician
Place of work: Saint Clare’s Health in Passaic, New Jersey
Date of death: 7 April 2020

When Kevin Leiva died of Covid-19 in early April, it was a second crushing loss to his close-knit team of EMT workers. Their colleague, Israel Tolentino Jr, had died one week before.

“People were scared that everyone was going to die from it,” said Vito Cicchetti, a director at Saint Clare’s Health, where the men worked. “After Izzy died, we all started getting scared for Kevin.”

Leiva, according to an obituary, “was always worried about his crew”. He was proud of his work and said: “Becoming an EMT was an act of God.”

He met his wife, Marina, online while they were in high school. He loved spending time at their home, playing guitar and tending to his tegu lizards, AJ and Blue.

As Covid-19 spread, the station’s three ambulances each handled up to 15 dispatches a shift, roughly twice as many as usual. EMTs often responded to calls continuously, stopping only to clean their personal protective equipment and disinfect the ambulance.

Leiva “always had a joke” that helped to defuse stressful situations and bring his co-workers together, Cicchetti said.

– MA

Billy Birmingham Sr, 69
In ministry and rescue missions, ‘he put his all into it’

Occupation: Emergency medical technician
Place of work: Kansas City, Missouri, fire department
Date of death: 13 April 2020

Bill Birmingham Jr remembers the year his father took on a new career. The whole family studied, even acting out scenes to ensure Billy Birmingham Sr, a minister, was ready for his emergency medical technician exam.

“He put his all into it,” the son recalled.

Billy Birmingham passed the test. And from the late 1990s on, he served as an EMT and a minister.

His family rallied again when he pursued a doctorate in pastoral theology, which he earned in 2005. During nearly four decades as a minister, he opened two churches.

“He had a heart for other people,” his son said. “Whatever he could do for other people, he would do it.”

As a fire department EMT, he was exposed to the coronavirus. The cough came in March.

“‘I’m just tired.’ That’s what he kept saying,” his son said. His dad went to the hospital twice. The first time he told the staff about his symptoms and underlying health conditions, then they sent him home.

The second time he arrived in an ambulance. Just over two weeks later, as he lay dying, hospital staff set up a video chat so his family could see him one last time.

– Cara Anthony

John Schoffstall, 41
Firefighting and ‘helping people’ were in his blood

Occupation: Paramedic and firefighter
Place of work: Terre Haute fire department in Terre Haute, Indiana
Date of death: 12 April 2020

John Schoffstall grew up around firehouses, and it was at his own firehouse in Terre Haute, Indiana, that he was exposed to the coronavirus.

A paramedic and firefighter with the Terre Haute fire department for almost 12 years, Schoffstall died on 12 April at age 41. Glen Hall, the deputy chief, said the department has been responding every day to calls from patients showing symptoms of Covid-19, although investigations by the county health department and his own department determined Schoffstall contracted the virus from another firefighter. Four other firefighters became mildly ill.

Jennifer Schoffstall, his wife of 18 years, said her husband went to the hospital on 28 March.

“His breathing was so bad in the ER, they just decided to keep him,” she said. “He regressed from there.”

Hall said Schoffstall loved spending time with his family; the couple had a 17-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter.

Schoffstall’s father had been a volunteer firefighter, Jennifer said, and her husband signed up for the New Goshen volunteer fire department when he turned 18.

“He loved the fire service and everything about it,” she said. “He loved helping people.”

SJ

Luis Caldera-Nieves, 63
The jovial ‘Puerto Rican Santa Claus’ trained scores of other OB-GYNs

Occupation: Obstetrician-gynecologist
Place of work: University of Miami and Jackson health systems, Miami, Florida
Date of death: 8 April 2020

Somos felices.” That was Dr Luis Caldera-Nieves’ signature sign-off after a cesarean section or at the end of a difficult shift. “We’re happy,” he meant, and often, when he was around, it was true.

Caldera-Nieves, a popular OB-GYN, trained scores of doctors and helped bring thousands of babies into the world in his 25 years at the University of Miami and Jackson health systems.

Born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, he worked at an air force base before joining UM, said Dr Jaime Santiago, a longtime co-worker. Caldera-Nieves was so devoted to his patients that he often gave them his private phone number – and his wife’s, Santiago said.

Because he was so jovial, he earned the nickname “the Puerto Rican Santa Claus”, Santiago said.

“He was truly loved and admired by everyone who worked with him, and will be remembered for his humor and never-ending positive energy,” said Dr Jean-Marie Stephan, who trained under Caldera-Nieves.

In a statement, UM and Jackson confirmed Caldera-Nieves died from complications of Covid-19 and said they “grieve the loss of our esteemed and beloved colleague.” He is survived by his wife and six adult children.

– MB

Capt Franklin Williams, 57
‘It’s a nightmare’

Occupation: Firefighter and medical first responder
Place of work: Detroit fire department in Detroit, Michigan
Date of death: 8 April 2020

Capt Franklin Williams stood at the altar on his wedding day and pretended to hunt for the ring. He patted his chest, then his pockets and looked up at his soon-to-be wife with a “million-dollar smile”.

He was always clowning and “so silly”, said Shanita Williams, his wife, recalling how he always tried to make her laugh. Williams died from complications of the novel coronavirus on 8 April – one month before the couple’s 10th wedding anniversary.

Williams had been on an emergency call with a verified Covid-19 patient before falling ill, according to the Detroit fire department chief, Robert Distelrath. Crews are equipped with personal protective equipment including a gown, N95 mask and gloves, he said.

But it’s easy for a mask to slip – “when you’re giving [chest] compressions, your mask isn’t staying in place all the time,” said Thomas Gehart, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association.

When Williams fell sick on 24 March, he moved to his home’s guest bedroom to avoid infecting his wife. He never returned to work.

“I’m thankful and thank God for having him in my life,” Shanita said, adding that she keeps thinking, “it’s a nightmare and I’m going to wake up. But it’s not.”

–– SJT

Aleyamma John, 65
‘We’re failing miserably without her

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Queens hospital center in Queens, New York
Date of death: 5 April 2020

Aleyamma John’s family wanted her to retire. Her husband, John, an MTA transit worker, had stopped working a few years earlier. He and their son Ginu urged her to follow suit. “We told her, ‘I’m sure dad wants to see the world with you –– you need to give him that opportunity,’” Ginu said.

She demurred. “I think she found fulfillment in being able to serve,” Ginu said. “She was able to hold people’s hands, you know, even when they were deteriorating and be there for them.” She began her career as a nurse in India 45 years ago; she and her husband emigrated to the United Arab Emirates, where their two sons were born, and moved to New York in 2002.

Ginu said his mother, a devout Christian, found joy in tending to her vegetable garden and doting on her two grandchildren. She cooked dishes from her native India and filled the Long Island home she shared with John, Ginu and Ginu’s family with flowers.

In March, as Queens hospital center began to swell with Covid-19 patients, Aleyamma sent her family of a photo of herself and colleagues wearing surgical hats and masks, but not enough personal protective equipment. Days later she developed a fever and tested positive for the virus. Johnny, Ginu and Ginu’s wife, Elsa, a nurse practitioner, also became ill.

When Aleyamma’s breathing became labored, her family made the difficult decision to call 911. It would be the last time they saw her. “We’re 17 days in, and I feel like we’re failing miserably without her,” Ginu said.

Danielle Renwick

Mike Field, 59
A 9/11 first responder, he answered the call during the pandemic

Occupation: Volunteer emergency medical technician
Place of work: Village of Valley Stream, New York
Date of death: 8 April 2020

Mike Field had a strong sense of civic duty. An emergency medical technician, he was a first responder with the New York fire department (FDNY) on 9/11. He was also a member of his community’s all-volunteer fire department since 1987.

After he retired from FDNY in 2002, he took a job making and posting street signs with his local public works department. He continued to volunteer with Valley Stream’s fire department and mentored the junior fire department. When he wasn’t responding to emergencies or training future emergency technicians he led a Boy Scout troop and volunteered for animal causes.

“Here’s somebody who cares about the community and cares about its people,” said Valley Stream’s mayor, Ed Fare, who had known Mike since the seventh grade.

Stacey Field, his wife, said he found his calling early, after his own father experienced a heart attack. “When the fire department EMTs came and helped his dad, he decided that’s what he wanted to do,” she said.

Their three sons – Steven, 26; Richie, 22; and Jason, 19 –– have followed in their father’s footsteps. Steven and Richie are EMTs in New York; Jason plans on training to become one as well. All three volunteer at the same fire station their father did.

In late March, Mike and fellow volunteer responders were called to an emergency involving a patient showing symptoms of Covid-19. Field died on 8 April.

– SJ

Valeria Viveros, 20
She was just starting on a path to becoming a nurse

Occupation: Nursing assistant
Place of Work: Extended Care hospital of Riverside, California
Date of Death: 5 April 2020

Valeria Viveros was “barely blooming”, developing the skills and ambition to pursue a nursing career, said Gustavo Urrea, her uncle. Working at Extended Care hospital of Riverside was her first job.

Viveros, born in California to Mexican immigrants, grew attached to her patients at the nursing home, bringing them homemade ceviche, Urrea said. About a month ago, as he watched her cook, play and joke with her grandmother, he noticed how much her social skills had grown.

When she would say “Hi, tío,” in her playful, sweet, high-pitched voice, “it was like the best therapy you could have,” Urrea recalled. Viveros, who lived with her parents and two siblings, was enrolled in classes at a community college.

Viveros began to feel sick on 30 March, went to a nearby hospital and was sent home with Tylenol, Urrea said. By 4 April, she was too weak to get out of bed on her own. She left in an ambulance and never came back.

“We’re all destroyed,” he said. “I can’t even believe it.”

On 5 April, county health officials reported a coronavirus outbreak had sickened 30 patients and some staff at the nursing home where she worked. Trent Evans, general counsel for Extended Care, said staffers were heartbroken by her death.

Viveros was “head over heels in love with the residents that she served”, he said. “She was always there for them.”

– MB

Pamela Hughes, 50

She remembered the small – but meaningful – details about those in her care

Occupation: Nursing assistant and medication aide
Place of Work: Signature HealthCARE at Summit Manor, Columbia, Kentucky
Date of Death: 13 April 2020

Pamela Hughes lived her entire life in rural Columbia, Kentucky, but longed for wide, sandy beaches. For vacation, Hughes and her daughter, Brie, 26, eagerly drove 14 hours to Daytona Beach, Florida, or Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Hughes worked at Summit Manor, a nursing home in Columbia, for 32 years. She knew which residents preferred chocolate milk or applesauce with their medication; she remembered their favorite outfits and colors. Hughes’s usually shy demeanor vanished each December when she and co-worker Angie McAllister built a float for the town’s Christmas parade competition.

“We built 10 floats over 10 years,” McAllister said. “We got second place every year.”

Even after several residents tested positive for the coronavirus, Hughes dismissed her worsening cough as allergies or bronchitis. The nursing home was short on help and she wanted to serve her patients, Brie said.

Days later, the public health department suggested her mother get tested. She tested positive, and her health worsened – food tasted bitter, her fever soared, her hearing dulled. On 10 April, Hughes was taken by ambulance to a hospital, then by helicopter to Jewish hospital in Louisville. Barred from visiting, Brie said goodbye over FaceTime.

– SV

James House, 40
An eager student, he wanted to become a physician assistant

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Omni Continuing Care in Detroit, Michigan
Date of death: 31 March 2020

James House had a voracious appetite for learning about and a fascination with the human body.

His sister, Catrisha House-Phelps, traces it back to childhood visits to a dialysis center where their father received treatments. “That was what tugged at his heart,” she said. “He just always wanted to know ‘why’.”

House-Phelps said her brother adored his five children, treasured his anatomy and physiology books, and got a kick out of the residents he cared for at Omni Continuing Care. “He thought they were family; he just said they were funny people,” she said. He had hoped to go back to school to become a physician assistant.

House came down with what he thought was the flu in mid-March. His sister said he tried to get tested for Covid-19 but was turned away because he was not showing textbook symptoms and had no underlying health issues. On 31 March, after resting at home for over a week, House returned to work. Hours later, he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.

He texted his sister with updates on his condition. “I’m about to be intubated now,” he wrote. It was the last message he sent her.

DR

Thomas Soto, 59
A loving grandfather, Soto was looking forward to spending more time with his family

Occupation: Radiology clerk
Place of work: Woodhull medical center in Brooklyn, New York
Date of death: 7 April 2020

After more than 30 years at one of New York City’s busy public hospitals, Thomas Soto loved his job but was looking forward to retiring, said his son, Jesse Soto, who lived with him. Thomas looked forward to visits with his four-year-old grandson.

“They did everything together,” said Jesse. He often shared meals with the little boy and took him to a local toy store.

At Thomas’s busy station near the emergency room, he greeted patients and took down their information.

“Everybody saw him before their X-rays,” Jesse, 29, said. “He smiled all day, made jokes. He was a kind man.”

As Covid-19 patients began to overwhelm Woodhull and other emergency rooms across the city, Jesse said that at first, his father didn’t have any protective gear. (The hospital did not respond to requests for comment.)

He eventually got a mask. But he soon grew sick, developing a high fever, body aches and a cough. After a week, Soto said, “he couldn’t take it any more”.

He was admitted at Woodhull and died two days later.

– MA

Ali Dennis Guillermo, 44
A nurse who fought for his life in the ICU where he worked

Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of work: Long Island community hospital in East Patchogue, New York
Date of death: 7 April 2020

In 2004, Ali Dennis Guillermo, his wife, Romielyn, and their daughter uprooted their lives in the Philippines and moved to New York.

Everything fell into place. The former nursing instructor landed a job at Long Island community hospital, often working in intensive care or the emergency room. He enjoyed the intensity of ER work, his wife said.

As years passed, the couple had two sons and settled into a close-knit Filipino community on Long Island.

He was devoted to his three children.

“He was such a lovely and good father,” Romielyn said.

As Covid-19 emerged, he was assigned to patients who were transitioning out of intensive care. Many of the nurses on his floor had gotten sick, and “everybody was scared,” Romielyn said.

In late March, he began to feel achy, with a fever that soared to 102F (38.9C). Within days, his blood oxygen level plummeted.

His nails turned blue, an effect of low blood oxygen levels, and he asked his wife to take him to the ER. That was the last time they spoke. Guillermo was intubated in the ICU unit where he had worked. Nearly two weeks later, he died.

–– MA

Gary Sclar, 66
A whip-smart neurologist, Sclar was endlessly fascinated with the brain

Occupation: Neurologist
Place of work: Mount Sinai Queens in Queens, New York
Date of death: 12 April 2020

Gary Sclar was a whip-smart neurologist who loved comic books, Game of Thrones and Star Wars, said his daughter, Jennifer Sclar. He was deeply compassionate with a blunt bedside manner.

“My dad was fascinated with the brain and with science,” Jennifer Sclar said. “His work was his passion, and it’s what made him the happiest, besides my brother and me.” Set to retire in June, he was looking forward to writing about politics and neurology.

Gary Sclar saw patients who were showing Covid-19 symptoms and knew his age and underlying health conditions –– he had diabetes –– put him at risk for developing complications from the illness. His daughter pleaded with him to stop going in to the hospital.

In early April, he mentioned having lost his sense of smell, and on 8 April, he collapsed in his home. He was hospitalized a few days later and agreed to be intubated. “I don’t think he realized like that this was the end,” Sclar said. “He brought his keys. He brought his wallet.”

DR

Rose Harrison, 60
Selfless and sassy, Alabama nurse cared for a Covid-19 patient at a nursing home

Occupation: Nurse
Place of work: Marion Regional nursing home in Hamilton, Alabama
Date of death: 6 April 2020

Rose Harrison lived to serve others – her husband, three daughters, grandchildren and the residents of the nursing home where she worked. Though the Alabama nurse was selfless, she also had a sassy edge to her personality and was given to fits of pique behind the wheel, her daughter, Amanda Williams said.

“Her personality was so funny, you automatically loved her,” Williams said. “She was so outspoken. If she didn’t agree with you, she’d tell you in a respectful way.”

Williams was not wearing a mask when she cared for a patient who later tested positive for Covid-19 at Marion Regional nursing home in Hamilton, Alabama, her daughter said. She later developed a cough, fatigue and a low-grade fever, but kept reporting to duty all week. Officials from the nursing home did not return calls for comment.

On 3 April, Williams drove her mother to a hospital. The following evening, Harrison discussed the option of going on a ventilator with loved ones on a video call, agreeing it was the best course. Williams believed that her mother fully expected to recover.

–– CJ

Monica Echeverri Casarez, 49
A surgical technician who made friends everywhere she went

Occupation: Surgical technician
Place of work: Detroit medical center Harper University hospital in Detroit, Michigan
Date of death: 11 April 2020

Monica Echeverri Casarez was in constant motion, said her husband, Jorge Casarez. The daughter of Colombian immigrants, she worked as a Spanish-English interpreter in clinical settings. She was the kind of person whose arrival at a mom-and-pop restaurant would elicit hugs from the owners. She also co-founded Southwest Detroit Restaurant Week, a not-for-profit that supports local businesses.

Twice a month, she scrubbed in as a surgical technician at Harper University hospital. “She liked discovering the beauty of how the body works and how science is clear and orderly,” Casarez said. She was organized and intuitive, qualities that are assets in the operating room.

On 21 March, she posted a photo of herself in protective gear with the caption: “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a bit nervous to be there now.” Since many elective surgeries had been canceled, Echeverri Casarez was tasked with taking the temperatures of people who walked into the hospital and making sure their hands were sterilized.

Soon after, Echeverri Casarez and Casarez began feeling ill. Quarantined together, Echeverri Casarez tried to make the best of the situation. She baked her husband a cake –– chocolate with white frosting. She died a few days later.

– DR

Kim King-Smith, 53
King-Smith was driven by a desire to help others until the end

Occupation: Electrocardiogram technician
Place of work: University hospital in Newark, New Jersey
Date of death: 31 March 2020

Kim King-Smith was a natural caregiver. An only child, she grew up close to her extended family, including her cousins Hassana Salaam-Rivers and Sharonda Salaam. After Salaam developed multiple sclerosis, King-Smith visited her every day.

“She’d bring her sweets that she wasn’t supposed to have and share them with her,” Salaam-Rivers said. King-Smith’s desire to care for others was the reason she became an electrocardiogram technician, her cousin added. “If a friend of a friend or family member went to the hospital, she would always go and visit them as soon as her shift was over,” she said.

In March, King-Smith cared for a patient she said had symptoms of Covid-19; she soon fell ill herself and tested positive for the virus. It seemed like a mild case at first, and she stayed in touch with family via FaceTime while trying to isolate from her husband, Lenny.

On 29 March, Salaam-Rivers checked in on her cousin and noticed she was struggling to breathe. She urged her to call an ambulance. After King-Smith was hospitalized, she exchanged text messages with her mother and cousin. As the day progressed, her messages carried increasingly grave news, Salaam-Rivers said. Then she stopped responding.

– DR

Marion ‘Curtis’ Hunt, 57
A social worker with panache who helped people struggling with addiction

Occupation: Social worker
Place of work: Cornell Scott-Hill health center and New Reach in New Haven, Connecticut
Date of death: 23 March 2020

At a shelter for adults recovering from addiction, residents looked forward to the days when Marion “Curtis” Hunt would take the stage, emceeing talent shows and belting out Broadway and gospel tunes.

It wasn’t part of his job description as a social worker. It was just one of the ways he went “above and beyond”, said Daena Murphy, his supervisor at Cornell Scott-Hill health center. “He had a beautiful voice,” she said. “He was just a wonderful person –– funny, engaging, always a huge smile on his face.”

Hunt, the youngest of four brothers, earned his master’s in social work from Fordham University at 52, and was baptized at his brother’s Pentecostal church at 54. He was a devoted uncle who doted on his dog and cat, Mya and Milo.

It’s unclear how Hunt got infected, but one patient he worked with tested positive for Covid-19, as did two co-workers, according to Dr Ece Tek, another supervisor at Cornell Scott-Hill health center. Hunt died on 23 March, one week after developing flu-like symptoms, said his brother John Mann Jr.

MB

Araceli Buendia Ilagan, 63
An exacting but loving aunt, she was a mentor until the end

Occupation: Intensive care unit nurse
Place of work: Jackson Memorial hospital in Miami, Florida
Date of death: 27 March 2020

For Jhoanna Mariel Buendia, her aunt was a constant –– if distant –– presence. Araceli Buendia Ilagan emigrated from their hometown Baguio, in the Philippines, to the US before Buendia was born, but she remained close to her family and communicated with them nearly every day.

“She was one of the smartest people I ever knew,” Buendia, 27, said. Buendia Ilagan, who at one point looked into adopting her niece so she could join her and her husband the United States, encouraged Buendia to become a nurse, and talked her through grueling coursework in anatomy and physiology. Buendia is now a nurse in London.

Buendia Ilagan was also demanding. “Whenever she visited the Philippines, she wanted everything to be organized and squeaky clean,” Buendia said.

The last time the two spoke, in late March, Buendia Ilagan didn’t mention anything about feeling ill. Instead, the two commiserated over their experiences of treating patients with Covid-19; as always, her aunt offered her advice on staying safe while giving the best possible care. She died four days later.

– DR

Leo Dela Cruz, 57
A beloved geriatric psychiatrist and church musician remembered for his cooking skills

Occupation: Geriatric psychiatrist
Place of work: Christ hospital and CarePoint health in Jersey City, New Jersey
Date of death: 8 April 2020

Dr Leo Dela Cruz was nervous about going to work in the weeks before he died, his friends said. Like many in the region, Christ hospital had an influx of Covid-19 patients and faced a shortage of ventilators and masks.

Dela Cruz was a geriatric psychiatrist and didn’t work in coronavirus wards. But he continued to see patients in person. In early April, Dela Cruz, who lived alone, complained only of migraines, his friends said. Within a week his condition worsened, and he was put on a ventilator at a nearby hospital. He died soon after.

Friends said he may have been exposed at the hospital. (In a statement, hospital representatives said he didn’t treat Covid-19 patients.)

Dela Cruz, the oldest of 10 siblings, came from a family of healthcare professionals. His friends and family – from Cebu, Philippines, to Teaneck, New Jersey – remembered his jovial personality on Facebook. He won “best doctor of the year” awards, played tennis, and cooked traditional Cebu dishes.

Nida Gonzales, a colleague, said he always supported people, whether funding a student’s education or running a church mental health program. “I feel like I lost a brother,” she said.

– Ankita Rao

J Ronald Verrier, 59
Verrier was so committed to fighting the virus, he called into work meetings even after he got sick

Occupation: Surgeon
Place of work: St Barnabas hospital in the Bronx, New York
Date of death: 8 April 2020

Dr J Ronald Verrier spent the final weeks of his life tending to a torrent of patients infected with Covid-19. Workers at St Barnabas hospital struggled to find masks and gowns as staff set up makeshift morgues in the parking lot. (Many nurses continue to make cloth masks.)

Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Verrier emigrated to the United States and had worked at St Barnabas for the last two decades, overseeing the general surgery residency program.

A towering presence with a wide, dimpled smile, Verrier was a natural mentor who was known to drop into patients’ rooms for impromptu birthday parties.

“He kept pushing me forward,” said Dr Christina Pardo, Verrier’s cousin and an obstetrician and gynecologist in New York. “I would call him and say, ‘I swear I failed that test,’ and he would laugh. He was my confidence when I didn’t have it.”

The Verrier family stretches across continents and Verrier kept them close, zipping around to a niece’s wedding in Belgium, a baptism in Florida and another wedding in Montreal in recent years. He had recently ferried medical supplies to Haiti, a decade after he had traveled to his homeland to tend to victims of the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake.

Verrier helped steer St Barnabas’s efforts to increase its capacity as Covid-19 cases increased. “He was at the hospital every day,” Dr Ridwan Shabsigh, the surgery department’s chair, said. “This was a nonstop effort.”

In early April, Verrier discovered he was infected. After developing symptoms, he continued to call into meetings from his home in Woodmere, New York. Shabsigh spoke with Verrier on 7 April, and said his spirits were high. The next day, he was rushed to a nearby hospital where he died.

– SV

Vianna Thompson, 52
Thompson texted from the bedroom: ‘Call the ambulance, I can hardly breathe’

Occupation: Nurse
Place of work: VA Sierra Nevada health care system and Northern Nevada medical center in Reno, Nevada
Date of death: 7 April 2020

In late March, Vianna Thompson spent two night shifts caring for a co-worker who was suffering from Covid-19. Two weeks later, she was lying in an intensive care unit, with a colleague holding her hand.

Thompson and Bruce McAllister, the man she treated, were among three VA healthcare workers in Reno, Nevada, who died within a two-week span from the novel coronavirus.

“It’s pretty devastating. It’s surreal. Reno’s not that big of a city,” said Robyn Underhill, a night nurse who worked with Thompson.

Thompson was born Vianna Fye in Port Huron, Michigan. She met her husband, Bob, in 1991 on the Osan airbase in South Korea, where she was a veterinary technician and cared for military police dogs. They bonded over two-step dancing and country music.

Vianna was a proud mother who worked long hours to provide for her three sons, buying them saxophones, drums and keyboards so they could play jazz and country music.

“She was just sweet, big-hearted, caring, unselfish,” Bob Thompson said. Vianna came to work with a cough on 29 March, a day after McAllister died. ”We were all very concerned,” Underhill said. “Call it intuition, call it ‘Spidey sense’, but I knew that moment that she was coughing that this was not going to end well.”

That shift was Thompson’s last. Over the next four days, she wrestled with fever, weakness and shortness of breath. The following Thursday, she texted her husband from the bedroom: “Call the ambulance, I can hardly breathe.”

She was taken to the VA hospital and put on a ventilator. On 17 March, as her organs began to fail, Thompson’s colleagues connected to Bob on FaceTime so he could say goodbye.

As a veteran, she qualified for an “honor flight”, in which the patient’s body is covered with a black box and wheeled through the hospital while others line up and salute. Because of the infectious nature of the coronavirus, a US flag could not be safely draped over her body, so a family friend walked in front of her and carried it.

Thompson said the ceremony drew more people lining the hallways than staff had seen in 20 years. “God’s getting a hell of a nurse,” he said.

– MB

Alvin Simmons, 54
After some struggles, Simmons turned his life around

Occupation: Environmental service assistant
Place of work: Rochester general hospital in Rochester, New York
Date of death: 17 March 2020

Alvin Simmons started working as a custodian at Rochester general hospital, in New York state, only weeks before he fell ill. “He loved helping people and he figured the best place to do that would be in a hospital,” his sister Michelle Wilcox said.

An army veteran who had served in the first Gulf war, Simmons loved karaoke and doted on his three grandchildren, Wilcox said. “He was a dedicated, hard-working individual who had just changed his life around” since a prison stint, she said.

According to Wilcox, Simmons began developing symptoms shortly after cleaning the room of a woman he believed was infected with the novel coronavirus. (In an email, a hospital spokesperson said it had “no evidence to suggest that Mr Simmons was at a heightened risk of exposure to Covid-19 by virtue of his training or employment duties” and that he was the hospital’s first diagnosed case of Covid-19.)

On 11 March, he visited the emergency room with flu-like symptoms, Wilcox said. Over the next few days, his breathing became more labored and he began to cough up blood. He was rushed to the hospital on 13 March, where he subsequently received a Covid-19 diagnosis. Simmons died on 17 March.

– DR

Daisy Doronila, 60
Doronila was among dozens of people infected with the coronavirus at a Hudson county jail

Occupation: Nurse
Place of work: Hudson county correctional facility in Kearny, New Jersey
Date of death: 5 April 2020

Daisy Doronila treated her patients at the Hudson county correctional facility, a New Jersey prison, with the utmost kindness, no matter what they had done.

“There would be people there for the most heinous crimes,” said her daughter, Denise Rendor, 28, “but they would just melt towards my mother because she really was there to give them care with no judgment.”

Doronila emigrated from the Philippines as a young nurse. She loved fashionable clothes and eating seafood on the waterfront in New York City, her daughter said.

“Daisy could handle herself,” said the county director of corrections, Ron Edwards, describing her as sophisticated, intelligent and compassionate. “If someone got obnoxious with her, she’d put them in their place and call for help if she needed to.”

Like many jails and prisons, the facility where Doronila worked has been hit hard by the virus: as of 10 April, 27 inmates and 68 staff members had tested positive. Four people who worked at the jail, including Doronila, have died, according to officials.

Doronila, a devout Catholic who had been planning a trip to Israel with friends from church, developed a cough in mid-March. One doctor told her she probably had strep throat; another said fever wasn’t high enough to merit a coronavirus test.

She offered to return to work, but as the days went by, her condition grew worse. On 21 March, she was hospitalized for shortness of breath. The next day, she was put on a ventilator. Two weeks later, she passed away.

Rendor said she and her mother were looking forward to sharing the next chapters in life together. For her mother, retirement at 65. For Rendor, marriage and perhaps starting her own family.

“It was about to get really, really good,” she said.

– CJ

Jeff Baumbach, 57
Unable to gather to mourn, Baumbach’s friends drove by his house shining flashlights in his honor

Occupation: Nurse
Place of work: St Joseph’s medical center in Stockton, California
Date of death: 31 March 2020

Jeff Baumbach knew the risks of coronavirus, but as a nurse for 28 years he was also accustomed to being around infectious disease. “He’d worked in the ICU. He was exposed to so many things, and we never got anything,” said his wife and fellow nurse, Karen. Baumbach even sent a dry text to Karen: “I love wearing a mask every day.”

In March, Baumbach was notified that a co-worker had Covid-19. He soon began to develop symptoms; he and Karen tested positive. Karen came down with body aches and congestion. Jeff had a fever and cough.

Their home, once the site of countless family brunches and barbecues, where Jeff and his children solved huge jigsaw puzzles, was now sealed off from the outside world. Their daughter Kaila, 26, moved out as a precaution, and she didn’t communicate with her dad when he was sick. “I thought he was invincible,” Kaila said.

On 26 March, Karen brought Baumbach to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. He chose to recuperate at home. On 31 March, he collapsed in the bathroom. “It went downhill really fast,” said Karen, who took him to the hospital. Unable to enter the building, she stayed in her car and received updates by phone. Kaila waited in another car nearby.

Baumbach was connected to a ventilator, but it had little effect. Eventually, Karen was allowed to don full protective gear and say goodbye in person. She returned home alone, still in quarantine.

The next evening, Kaila asked dozens of friends and family members to drive along her parents’ street and shine their phone flashlights. Filled with grief and gratitude, Karen cried as she peered out of an upstairs window at the glittering lines of cars crawling in both directions past her home.

– CJ

Debbie Accad, 72
Accad was the ‘pillar’ of her family back in the Philippines and spent decades caring for US veterans

Occupation: Clinical nursing coordinator
Place of work: Detroit VA medical center in Detroit, Michigan
Date of death: 30 March 2020

Nurse Divina “Debbie” Accad cared for military veterans for over 25 years and was just a few weeks from retiring when the virus struck.

On 16 March, Accad, 72, a clinical nursing coordinator at the Detroit VA medical center, told relatives that she felt ill. Four days later, she was hospitalized with pneumonia. She told her family that she had tested positive for Covid-19, and asked them to pray for her. The family felt helpless watching their beloved matriarch suffer from afar, said her niece, April Amada, who lives in the Philippines.

Accad was born in Alimodian, a Philippine town known for its sweet bananas. The eldest of four children, she graduated from Central Philippine University with a nursing degree in 1969.

Two years later, she moved to Chicago through a “fly now, pay later” program, joining tens of thousands of Filipino nurses who have migrated to the United States. She later relocated to Taylor, Michigan, where she married William Accad, with whom she raised four children.

Accad was the “pillar of the family”, Amada said. She sent money home to relatives, and put Amada’s mother through nursing school. A visit from Accad – known to relatives as Tita Debbie – meant unli-kainan, or “unlimited food”. Accad served up big American breakfasts and spicy kielbasa with cabbage.

Mark, Accad’s son, said his mother had diabetes, a risk factor for Covid-19 complications. He believes his mother was exposed by infected co-workers, though that has not been confirmed. The Department of Veterans Affairs is facing serious shortages in personal protective equipment for workers, according to internal memos obtained by the Wall Street Journal, though the VA has told reporters that it was taking proper precautions.

Accad “died doing what she loved most – caring for people”, said Mark.

– MB

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